Robots Are Moving Into Our Human Resources Functions

Agnes Desplechin

“When we react it will be too late,” said Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors (a pioneer in the connected car market), in July at the U.S. National Governors Association Summer Meeting. The businessman expressed his concern about the development of artificial intelligence and the delay in terms of regulation that would represent “a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.”

Today, the thought that humans can (in some activities) be substituted by robots no longer belongs solely to fictional works such as Frankenstein (1818) or current television shows Black Mirror and Westworld.

Concerns about potential failures caused by robots are very real and present today. Even before the most advanced prototypes of robots and the possibilities offered by artificial intelligence were considered, economist John Maynard Keynes prophesied the substitution of man by machines. In “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” published in 1930, he questioned the effects of automation on jobs, well-being, and happiness, seeking to find solutions to the issue of “technological unemployment.”

A century later, the replacement of human workers by robots is anticipated across the job spectrum. According to Laurent Alexandre, technocrat, urological surgeon, and artificial intelligence (AI) advocate, all professions will, in the near future, be threatened by AI, which will soon be everywhere. Indeed, AI it is already in your pocket; Siri and Google Assistant are early chatbots, conversational robots that will replace salesmen, attorneys, journalists, and eventually, human resource assistants.

To better understand the stakes, we must understand what AI is. Consider a machine without AI, which makes decisions based on manually defined rules. When a machine facing a large data flow learns to analyze and make decisions, intelligence is born; this is machine learning. If you’re still confused about machine learning based on this description, let’s take the example of email that you define manually as “spam” within your mailbox. Once it learns the form, structure, sender, and other details that led you to mark a message as spam (i.e., the rules you defined, even subconsciously), the machine can make the decision that a message is spam. Unlike human intelligence, the machine can be caught off guard when there are exceptions.

How AI develops is of great interest in the context of HR functions. Some examples include using automated and intelligent filters for recruitment, using robots for interviews, or having chatbots act as human resource assistants in order to answer recurring questions from employees.

AI’s contribution is often measured in terms of time and cost savings, but it can also lead to more impartiality and efficiency. Even so, the human aspects and ethics must remain the core part of the HR role. As Elon Musk suggests, we must now ensure AI retains our standards, and, crucially for the HR profession, keeps the “human” in human resources.

Will intelligent machines and HR one day walk hand in hand? AI offers prospects that are very promising and prompt many questions that will shape the evolution of our profession.

AI’s ability to end bias hinges on teaching it to play fair and constantly questioning the results.

Agnes Desplechin

About Agnes Desplechin

Agnes Desplechin started her professional life in the finance area before deciding to give her career a more human touch. After working for auditing companies for a couple of years, she acccepted an HR generalist position at a pharmaceutical company, where she dove into the world of recruiting, administration, and payroll. She later left Paris to live and raise her kids in the South of France. In the meantime, she joined Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) as an HR specialist. After 10 years at Accenture, she opted for a new challenge with SAP Labs France as its HR Director.